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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Interpreting the Fraser Institute ranking of secondary schools in British Columbia : a critical discourse analysis of how the mechanics of symbolic capital mobilization shapes, manages, and amplifies visibility asymmetries between schools and school systems Simmonds, Michael John


In the discourse on how to improve British Columbia’s secondary schools two prevailing epistemological tensions exist between two competing rationalities: (1) an instrumental rationality that privileges sense-making born out of data-gathering, and (2) a values-rationality that is discernibly more context-dependent. The seeds for public discord are sown when a particular kind of logic for capturing the complexity of any problematic is privileged over a competing (counter) logic attempting to do the same thing. The Fraser Institute proposes to the public a particular vision on how to improve secondary schools by manufacturing annual school report cards that are published in newspapers and online. Proponents of school report cards believe that school improvement is predicated on measurement, competition, market-driven reform initiatives, and choice. They support the strategies and techniques used by the Fraser Institute to demarcate the limits and boundaries of exemplary educational practice. Critics of school report cards object to the way ranking rubrics highlight and amplify differences that exist between schools. They believe that the rankings devised by the Fraser Institute rewards certain kinds of schools while statistically sanctioning others. Drawing principally on published media accounts and the Fraser Institute’s own documents this project shows how the Fraser Institute has mounted an effective public critique on the state of public secondary schools. It describes how statistical revisions made to the ranking matrix from 1998-2010 resulted in a marked redistribution of top-ranked schools in British Columbia that privileged certain kinds of private schools over public schools. School rankings designed to locate and fix their respective subjects in this way call on agents to compete for, acquire, and leverage different kinds of symbolic capital on the field of power, which they use to promote their respective political agendas. When the kinds of stories that can be told about schools become narrated through a statistical régime of truth they may negate capital disparities that exist between schools and the population of students they serve. At stake is the emancipatory belief that different kinds of schools operate to serve the diverse educational needs of different kinds of students in different kinds of ways.

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